Business & Technology

Biofuels: good for agrochemical/GMO biz

GMO giant Monsanto wows Wall Street, consolidates its grip on South America

While debate rages on Gristmill and elsewhere about whether biofuels are worth a damn ecologically, investors in agribusiness firms are quietly counting their cash. As corn and soy prices approach all-time highs, driven up by government biofuel mandates, farmers are scrambling to plant as much as they can — and lashing the earth with chemicals to maximize yields. At a Wall Street meeting on Tuesday, genetically modified seed/herbicide giant Monsanto promised investors even-higher-than-expected profits in fiscal year 2008. The company expects to rake in $1.3-$1.4 billion in gross profit from its Roundup herbicide alone (Monsanto had been previously expecting to …

Jewelers join campaign against proposed gold mine in Alaska

Psst — Valentine’s Day is coming up. If you’re now rushing out the door in a panic to buy your sweetie a trinket, keep this in mind: A group of prominent jewelers has joined a campaign against the Pebble Gold Mine, an environmental monstrosity that would be sited in Alaska’s Bristol Bay, at the headwaters of the world’s largest sockeye salmon run. Of 28 jewelers signed onto an enviro-sponsored No Dirty Gold campaign, five — Tiffany, Ben Bridge, Fortunoff, Helzberg, and Leber — have pledged not to source gold from the Pebble Mine. “There are places where mining does not …

Safeway agrees to animal-welfare standards for some products

One of the largest grocery store chains in the United States, Safeway, has agreed to increase animal-welfare standards for some of the animal-derived products sold at its stores. Chickens and pigs were the focus of the most recent efforts pressuring the chain to adopt humane standards. Safeway has pledged to purchase more pork from suppliers that have started phasing out the most restrictive kind of crates that don’t even allow pigs to turn around; the chain has also promised to buy more eggs from suppliers that don’t use the most-cramped kind of chicken cages. Safeway also said it will source …

U.K. ethical funds investing in pseudo-green companies, says report

Idealistic views of socially responsible investment funds are misplaced, according to a new report from British independent financial adviser Holden & Partners. An assessment of all SRI funds open to private investors in the U.K. found that while such funds do screen out companies with highly objectionable policies, many still end up offering stock in mainstream companies “which are far from cutting edge in terms of providing climate change solutions.” Says the IFA’s Peter Holden, “The report shows that SRI and ethical funds have not kept pace with the public’s appetite for environmental solutions.”

Bush will sign economic stimulus bill sans green incentives

President Bush will sign an economic stimulus bill Wednesday, meaning you may have a check winging your way after tax time. Not included in the bill: funding for clean-energy credits and green jobs, which were dropped from the Senate version after narrowly failing to get enough votes. Undeterred, Democrats in the House of Representatives may introduce separate legislation this week that would extend clean-energy tax credits and slap taxes on big energy companies.

Staples cuts off contracts with paper supplier over eco-concerns

This is spiffy, so allow us to Post-it: Office supply giant Staples has cut off all contracts with gigantic Asia Pulp & Paper, citing concern that APP feeds Indonesian and Chinese rainforest into its pulp mills. In recent years, other businesses including Office Depot have quit dealings with APP over environmental concerns, but Staples had stuck with ‘em. Now, though, Staples’ Vice President for Environmental Issues Mark Buckley says that staying with APP would be “at great peril to our brand.” Kudos to all you office suppliers who talked up rainforest destruction while purchasing your label makers.

An interview with Google’s green energy czar, Bill Weihl

The phrase “to Google” has become synonymous with “to search.” But soon it may connote something altogether different: “to green.” That is, if the internet titan can successfully pull off its latest world-changing endeavor. Bill Weihl. In late 2007, the dot-com giant announced its intention to make renewable energy cheaper than coal. The RE<C program aims to produce one gigawatt of electricity generating capacity — enough to power the city of San Francisco — from clean, green sources “within years, not decades.” The man responsible for making it happen, and for making the company carbon neutral, is Bill Weihl, Google’s …

Next market bubble: farmland!

Thanks to the ethanol boom, big investors are plowing cash into corn country

Big investors seem to have forgotten how to exist without some sort of speculative bubble. In the last decade, they’ve whipped cash from tech stocks to bonds to emerging markets to real estate to junk mortgages. With the latter bubble now deflating rapidly, they’ve turned to … Midwestern farmland? Yes, big cornfields. Here’s a Chicago asset manager talking about who’s buying up farmland, quoted in USA Today: It’s everybody from the person concerned about the stock market to large government and corporate pension funds, insurance companies, hedge funds. [!] Investors do like a sure bet. With the 2007 Energy Act …

Umbra on green-company buyouts

Dear Umbra, So glad you were ransomed. (I happily did my bit.) I’m worried that the gentle-on-the-environment start-ups are taking the money and running. First our favorite toothpaste, Tom’s of Maine, sold out to Colgate (I think) and now Burt’s Bees has become a product line acquired by a bleach company. Where do we turn for sparkling teeth and rosy cheeks? Irene Eatonville, Wash. Dearest Irene, May I split a few awapuhi-softened hairs with you? Neither Tom’s nor Burt’s Bees can be characterized as a start-up. Both businesses are well established and worth millions. It’s not like they barely got …

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